Badal Sarkar (Badal Sircar) was an influential Indian dramatist and theatre director, most known for his anti-establishment plays during the Naxalite movement in the 1970s and taking theatre out of the proscenium and into public arena, when he founded his own theatre company, Shatabdi in 1976 died from colon cancer he was , 85.. He wrote more than fifty plays of which Ebong Indrajit, Basi Khabar, and Saari Raat are well known literary pieces, a pioneering figure in street theatre as well as in experimental and contemporary Bengali theatre with his egalitarian “Third Theatre”, he prolifically wrote scripts for his Aanganmanch (courtyard stage) performances, and remains one of the most translated Indian playwrights. Though his early comedies were popular, it was his angst-ridden Ebong Indrajit (And Indrajit) that became a landmark play in Indian theatre.Today, his rise as a prominent playwright in 1960s is seen as the coming of age of Modern Indian playwriting in Bengali, just as Vijay Tendulkar did it in Marathi, Mohan Rakesh in Hindi, and Girish Karnad in Kannada.
(15 July 1925–13 May 2011)
He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1972, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1968 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship– Ratna Sadsya, the highest honour in the performing arts by Govt. of India, in 1997.
Early life and education
Badal Sarkar, whose real name was ‘Sudhindra Sarkar’, was born in Calcutta, India. After transferring from the Scottish Church College, where his father was a history professor, he studied civil engineering at the Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur, then affiliated with the University of Calcutta. In 1992, he finished his Master of Arts degree in comparative literature from the Jadavpur University in Calcutta.
While working as a town planner in India, England and Nigeria, he entered theatre as an actor, moved to direction, but soon started writing plays, starting with comedies. He stayed for two years in London, here he was influenced by people like Joan Littlewood, Anthony Serchio, Schechner and Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowski, this was make his body of future work distinct from other Bengali playwrights like Sombhu Mitra and Utpal Dutt. Amongst these influence of Richard Schechner, founder of the Performance Group, an experimental theater troupe, became more pronounced with establishment of his “Third Theatre”, nearly two decades later. He started his acting career in 1951, when acted in his own play, Bara Trishna, performed by Chakra, a theatre group.
Eventually still employed in Nigeria, he wrote his landmark play Ebong Indrajit (And Indrajit) in 1963, which was first published and performed in 1965 and catapulted him into instant fame, as it captured “the loneliness of post-Independence urban youth with dismaying accuracy”. He followed them with plays like Baaki Itihaash (Remaining History) (1965), Pralap (Delirium) (1966), Tringsha Shatabdi (Thirtieth Century) (1966), Pagla Ghoda (Mad Horse) (1967), Shesh Naai (There’s No End) (1969), all performed by Sombhu Mitra‘s Bohurupee group.
In 1967, he formed the “Shatabdi” theatre group, and the first production he directed was Ebang Indrajit in 1967, a play about three people – Amal, Bimal, Kamal and a loner Indrajit. In the next five years of its existence the troupe performed several of his plays and had a profound impact on contemporary theatre, especially after 1969 when it started performing plays both indoors and outside amidst people, and evolved the angan manch (courtyard stage) and inspired by the direct communication techniques of Jatra rural theatre form, to eventually become his “Third Theatre”, a protest against prevalent commercial theatre establishment. Often performed in “found” spaces rather than rented theatre halls, without elaborate lighting, costumes or make-up, where audience was no longer a passive, rather became participatory, it added a new realism to contemporary dramaturgy, retaining thematic sophistication of social committed theater all the while, and thus started a new wave of experimental theatre in Indian theatre. In 1976, his group “Satabdi”, started performing at Surendranath Park (then Curzon Park) Kolkata on weekends, these open-air and free performances lead to his troupe travelling to nearby villages on other weekends, where it employed minimal props and improvised dialogues to involve audience further into the performance.
Though he continued to hold his job till 1975, as a playwright he rose to prominence in the 1970s and was one of the leading figures in the revival of street theater in Bengal. He revolutionized Bengali theatre with his wrath-ridden, anti-establishment plays during the Naxalite movement.
His plays reflected the atrocities that prevailed in the society, the decayed hierarchical system and were socially enlightening. He is a proponent of the “Third theatre” movement that stood ideologically against the state. Third theatre involved street plays, with actors being attired no differently than the audience. Also the formal bindings of the proscenium theatre was given up. Sarkar’s “Bhoma” is an example of a third theatre play, set as always, in an urban background. Starting with Sagina Mahato, which marked his advent into arena stage, his subsequent plays, Michhil (Juloos), Bhoma, Basi Khobor, Spartacus based on Howard Fast‘s historical novel by the same name, were performed in parks, street corners and remote villages with the audience sitting all around.
Sircar directed his last play in 2003, and after that his movements were restricted after an road accident, but even many years in 2011, he continued performing at play readings and writing new works like adapting, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, two stories by Graham Greene and a novel, History of Love.
Sarkar was diagnosed with colon cancer in April 2011. He died on 13th May at Kolkata at the age of 85.
Awards and recognition
Sarkar was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1972, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1968 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship– Ratna Sadsya, the highest honour in the performing arts by Govt. of India, in 1997, given by Sangeet Natak Akademi, India’s National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama.
The “Tendulkar Mahotsav” held at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI), Pune in October 2005, organised by director Amol Palekar to honour playwright Vijay Tendular, was inaugurated with the release of a DVD and a book on the life of Badal Sircar.
In July 2009, to mark his 85th birthday, a five-day long festival titled Badal Utsava as tribute to him was organized by several noted theatre directors. He was offered the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2010, which he declined, stating that he is already a Sahitya Akademi Fellow, which is the biggest recognition for a writer.
Sarkar is the subject of two documentaries, one directed by filmmaker and critic, Amshan Kumar, and another A Face in the Procession by Sudeb Sinha, which was shot over two years.
Badal Sircar influenced a number of film directors, theater directors as well as writers of his time. Film director Mira Nair in an interview mentioned, “For me, Kolkata was a formative city while growing up…. I learned to play cricket in Kolkata, but more than anything, I learned to read Badal Sircar and watch plays written by him for street theatre. ”  To Kannada director and playwright, Girish Karnad, Sircar’s play Ebong Indrajit taught him fluidity between scenes, while as per theare director-playwright Satyadev Dubey, “In every play I’ve written and in every situation created, Indrajit dominates.” To Actor-director Amol Palekar, “Badalda opened up new ways of expression.”
List of plays
- Ebang Indrajit (And Indrajit) (1963)
- Basi Khabar
- Baaki Itihaash (Remaining History) (1965)
- Pralap (Delirium) (1966)
- Tringsha Shatabdi (Thirtieth Century) (1966)
- Pagla Ghoda (Mad Horse) (1967)
- Shesh Naai (There’s No End) (1969)
- Juloos (Procession)
- Solution X
- Saari Raat
- Badi buaji
- Kavi Kahini
- Manushe Manushe
- Hottomalar oparey
- Bollovpurer rupkatha
- Sukhapathya bharoter itihash (Indian History Made Easy)
- The Third Theatre. Pub. Sircar, 1978
- The changing language of Theatre (Azad memorial lectures). Pub. Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), 1982.
Plays in translation
- Evam Indrajit: Three-act Play. tr. by Girish Karnad. Oxford University Press. 1975. ISBN 0-19-560312-5.
- Three plays : Procession, Bhoma, Stale news. tr. by Samik Bandyopadhyay. Seagull. 1983.
- Beyond the Land of Hattamala & Scandal in Fairyland. tr. by Suchanda Sarkar. Seagull Books, 2003 . ISBN 81-7046-091-3.
- Two Plays: Indian History Made Easy, Life of Bagala, tr. by Subhendu Sarkar. OUP, 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-806549-4.